'Succession' Series Finale: With Eyes Open -- Or, Shiv's Choice

Exquisitely crafted and acted, the much-anticipated “Succession” finale satisfied on almost every level, bringing home the deliciously feel-bad, astutely contemporary entertainment that has powered the series for four seasons.

Still, save one surprisingly dissonant twist at the end, Episode 10, “With Open Eyes” was hardly a shocker.

That had happened much earlier this season, when Logan Roy, 84, the foul-mouthed Murdoch-like billionaire, patriarch, true media “Roi” and beating heart of the show, suddenly died in the “shitter,” as he’d crudely put it, in midflight on his company jet.

It’s notable (and meemable) that Logan’s favorite phrase is “Fuck off.” In addition to his fetishizing the F-word, the verbal slights thrown around in the show are cruel and often genitalia based. Therefore, the cliché about “Succession” is that there’s not one character to root for.



But what I find compelling about the HBO (now just Max) series is that it’s less about wealth, power, and the corruption of modern media empires and more about something deeply psychological, even universal: generational trauma. Think of King Lear and his daughters.

Sure, the kids are insanely rich and privileged. But Papa Logan passed on his own perverse trauma to the “next GenRoys” as Kendall called them, leaving them emotionally crippled, defying  the possibility of succession.

Within that self-defeating cycle, Kendall, Roman and Shiv, the three youngest grown-up kids, try to carry on, negotiating adult life through their own individual, neglect-filtered, narcissistic interests of “what Dad would have wanted.” 

But because Logan had a habit of yanking each one into his light -- with the possibility of succeeding him as CEO -- only to dispose of them, each kid has had to sit in a metaphorical dirty diaper for seven painful episodes.

In the meantime, big things did happen -- a kingly funeral and a horrifying Presidential election that Fox-like ATN tipped in favor of a fascist. Still, the siblings constantly triangulate, acting out a cycle of cruelty, betrayal and then group hugs.

Still, I’m always a happy viewer for the group hug part. Here they become kids again, going back to a bond that’s deeper than neurosis and business.

It’s a given that they had a mercurial maniac for a father. He spitefully demanded custody of the kids in the divorce. On top of that, though, there’s no better illustration for their aristocratic British mother’s inhumanly cold style of non-nurture than her stinginess with food. She never feeds her kids, literally. Her kitchen is barren, which has become a running joke. 

In what I hoped was a fraction of a shard of a maternal bone in her body, she had invited the kids to her house in the Caribbean. They arrive at the island independently, in gleaming black cars on sun-parched roads. Roman gets there earliest, to literally lick his wounds. From his gladiatorial combat with election night protestors, he has a large stitched scar over his eyebrow, and various gashes. The mother says “jelly” eyeballs, or “face eggs” like most things human, freak her out. Her husband had to give him his drops.

Because Shiv and Kendall are in on opposing ends of an imminent, deadly serious board battle, each has come to bag Roman’s vote (not to bury him.)  But  by sundown, Shiv discovers that Mattson has totally screwed her out of the American CEO job. Furious, she immediately switches lanes, from GoJo to her brothers’ side.

They all go down to the ocean, and Kendall teases us with death by going night swimming. Eventually, Shiv and Roman get in the water, and agree that Kendall should get the top spot.

They’re united and in cahoots. And in my favorite scene ever, they celebrate in the kitchen by making a “dinner fit for a king,” in the form of a disgusting smoothie -- since they can’t find any edible food -- -that Kendall actually drinks, and then gets poured on his head, to crown him.

They’re laughing wildly, and their mother comes in to shush them, and sees that Roman is in the refrigerator. “That’s Peter’s cheese!” she screams, referring to her new opportunist husband, or as Logan called him, “the seat sniffer.” Shiv absolutely loses it, emitting the jolliest, whole-body guffaw I’ve ever seen.  They can laugh because they’re used to the absurdity of getting nothing but dregs from her -- literally the frozen ends of breads.

It turns out she only did that so Peter and his sketchy friend could pitch the kids on a law-skirting Living+ related deal.

Once she leaves, Roman licks every inch of Peter’s queso.

The scene I hated most was the fancy French restaurant “hang” between  Matsson and Tom. The Swede is manipulative and undermining in the same contemptuous way as Logan was, but he’s a lot younger and better-looking.

With his intro into the show, we also got the musky stench of the kind of casual, deep-rooted misogyny that’s revolting to watch. Sadly, I know the tech world is rife with it. But it made me wonder whether Jesse Armstrong and the writers were making a point about how gross it is to be the definition of a sexist pig, or whether they simply thought it made for great television.

Shiv has always been mistreated, so I was surprised to see that there are lots of female writers on the show. I didn’t think there were any. Her pregnancy was handled really absurdly all season. And now, this new low.

Matsson is  courting Tom and cuckolding him at the same time. He mentions that he likes Shiv, but she’s “too pushy’ and also, he’d like to fuck her, so therefore she wouldn’t be a good fit. (Hello, HR!)  And then he says, ludicrously, that the man who “put the baby in the baby lady’s body” would be perfect.

Tom says, “we’re all men” -- in other words, I’ll be your bitch, and go ahead if you like my lady’s body. It’s so ugly that I have no words. It’s also true that any ambitious woman is perceived as “too pushy.” (Soft men, of course, are “pussies.")

The shocker ending , however is that Shiv, casting the deciding vote, shivved her brothers in favor of her estranged, sometime chew-toy husband, Tom.

Shiv’s vote allowed the takeover, which then installed Tom as GoJo’s American CEO (and Matsson’s puppet).

Many female viewers were angry with Shiv’s choice, setting her up at best as Lady Macbeth, living with a child she’s ambivalent about having in a loveless marriage, much like her mother.

But Shiv’s choice was not really a choice. It came down to giving power to the brother who constantly pushed her out, or Mattson, the Mastodon-like tech owner, and her sometime-husband. Both had betrayed her. But she was sickened by the sight of Kendall in Logan’s chair, and needed to breathe.

She leaves the boardroom to think and be on her own. Both brothers follow her into an adjacent room, where they end up having a screaming, physical fight.

The irony is that at Logan’s funeral, Shiv described the times she and her brothers would play outside her father’s office, and he’d come out and scream at them to be quiet. They’re squabbling kids, outside, wanting Dad’s attention and waiting for him to tell them to shut up.

Meanwhile, Roman, whose stitches are popped and bloody after a weirdly hostile bear hug from Ken, who keeps pushing him into his shoulder, agrees with Shiv that Kendall can’t  be CEO, because he killed someone. It’s the only reason he’s living, and Kendall actually breaks with reality to lie to them and say he didn’t, that he made it up.

Then Roman further proves that Kendall's impotent, by implying that his kids aren’t his. One is adopted, and the other is “half-Rava and half some filing cabinet guy.”

They fight like dogs, and meanwhile Shiv votes for Go-Jo.

In the second-to last shot, Shiv and Tom are in the back of his company car, staring ahead, looking as uncomfortable as the final scene in "The Graduate," after Ben has interrupted Elaine's wedding and run away with her. Now they're both sitting  in the back of a city bus  staring straight ahead, knowing that the future is bleak.

Except that in his corner, Tom extends an open hand on the armrest between them. Shiv puts her hand on top, and together, the stiff, dead white hands look either regal or funereal.

The final shot in the finale is devastating. The defeated Kendall is walking downtown in Battery Park, toward the East River that looks as broad and rolling as an ocean, with his loyal body man Colin following him from a few paces back, caring for Kendall just as he did for his dad.

He sits on a bench, and we study the back of his head, which could refer to the shot of his father in the opener, or a Magritte phantasmagoria, or Chance, the guy in "Being There."

I prayed he wouldn’t jump. I half expected for him to levitate.

All three of the kids have returned to some part of their parents’ or their own earlier lives. Maybe that means  they’re free.

For Kendall, heavy is the head that doesn’t wear the crown.

Sure beats the crapper.

2 comments about "'Succession' Series Finale: With Eyes Open -- Or, Shiv's Choice".
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  1. Ivy Baer Sherman from Vintage Magazine, June 1, 2023 at 11:26 a.m.

    Barbara Lippert -- thank you for such keen and brilliantly written analysis. I've looked forward to your (recent) succession of Succession pieces here on MediaPost -- ahh, if only you'd covered the entire series! 

  2. Lex Singer from Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, June 1, 2023 at 6:03 p.m.

    "delciously feel bad" so good! astute as always!

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